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Bo Burnham Welcomes You to the Internet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2021

I have been hearing nothing but good things, and lots of them, about comedian Bo Burnham’s new show on Netflix called Inside. Burnham did the entire thing by himself in his house during the pandemic — writing, music, cinematography, editing, etc. In this clip from the show, Burnham performs a song called “Welcome to the Internet”. (via waxy)

My Recent Media Diet, the Fully Vaccinated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2021

Every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since early February, accompanied by a mini review.

How To with John Wilson. What happens near the end of the risotto episode got all the attention, but I’m all about the bag of chips saga. (B+)

Black Art: In the Absence of Light. I can listen to artists and critics talk about art all day long. Also? Everyone in this has impeccable eyewear. (A)

Spirited Away. A masterpiece. (A)

Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine (BNT162b2). Possibly the best experience of the past 5 years. (A+++++)

Casino Royale. The best of the Daniel Craig Bonds IMO. (B+)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante. Another marvelously constructed world with vibrant characters by Ferrante. (A)

Wandavision. A love letter to television. Watched this with the kids and we all loved it. (A)

Looper. This is perhaps my favorite type of movie: clever sci-fi with a creative director and good actors that give a shit. (A-)

Sonic the Hedgehog. Jim Carrey is the highlight here and not much else. (C+)

The Remains of the Day. One of my favorite movies. I’ve watched this every few years since 1993 and what I get out of it changes every time. Great book too. (A+)

Judas and the Black Messiah. Fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. (A)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Way too long and nearly pointless. This is what happens when you start treating the director of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole like an auteur. (B-)

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I recommend the audiobook version of this. You can really tell the bits of the book he cares about and the stuff he phones in a little bit more. The tone of his voice when he talks about Michelle — that love is real. (B+)

Making Sense — The Boundaries of Self. I listened to this conversation with the poet David Whyte at the beginning of March and it was exactly what I needed to hear at that time. I must have listened to his short essay on Friendship about 5 times. (A)

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson. About the invention of the wireless telegraph and the beginning of our abundantly connected world. (B+)

Still Processing - The N Word. The way that Morris and, particularly, Wortham use inclusive language is fascinating. They invite people into the conversation without any loss of insight or critical capability. A bracing rebuttal to the idea that using so-called “woke” language is hamstringing discourse in America. (A-)

Matilda by Roald Dahl. Read this aloud to the kids and was told my rendition was not nearly as good as Kate Winslet’s. (B+)

You’re Wrong About (The continuing OJ saga). This has become the show’s version of Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine, with entire episodes dedicated to explaining mere minutes of the trial. I am here for it. (A)

Godzilla vs. Kong. I watched this after eating an edible and I think that’s the perfect way to do it. Monsters, roar! (B)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. One of my favorite Trek movies. (A-)

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less popular with me and the kids than Wandavision. Occasionally fun but also kind of a mess, especially when it comes to the “moral of the story”. (B)

The Talk Show with Craig Mod. Every single second of this 2.5-hour-long conversation between Craig Mod and John Gruber felt like it was created specifically for me. (A-)

Rough Translation - Liberté, Égalité, French Fries… And Couscous. A follow-up to a classic episode about a French McDonald’s that was commandeered by its employees. (B+)

Unstoppable. The perfect movie. I wouldn’t change a thing. (A)

Pac-Man 99. A nice update to this venerable game. The kids dismissed it as “too hectic”. (B+)

Fortnite. The perfect game for introverts — you can actually win by cleverly avoiding crowds and then dealing with a much more manageable 1-on-1 situation. But also I am old and there are too many buttons on this controller. (B+)

Croupier. Young Clive Owen, wow. (B+)

HazeOver. Recommended to me by Mike Davidson, this macOS app dims background windows to help you focus on your work. (B+)

Titanic. Had to rewatch after Evan Puschak’s video about it. Still an amazingly effective blockbuster movie. (A)

For All Mankind (Season One). So many people have recommended this to me over the past year and I finally got around to watching it. I was hooked within the first 5 minutes. (A)

The Mitchells vs. The Machines. Entertaining and stylistically interesting. (B+)

NYC. So much to say about this city and the resilience of the people who call it home. Still undefeated. (A)

Throughline — The Real Black Panthers. Great podcast on the political agenda and strategy of the Black Panther Party. A natural companion to Judas and The Black Messiah. (A)

Frick Madison. They have like 10% of the world’s Vermeers in just one room! (B+)

The Whitney. Great to be back here to see the work of Dawoud Bey and Julie Mehretu. (A)

The outdoor dining situation in NYC. The city has to keep this and the pandemic pedestrian areas reclaimed from cars. More room for people, less room for cars. (A)

Fairfax. This is the sister restaurant to my two favorite places in NYC, both of which closed permanently because of the pandemic, and the first restaurant I’ve been to since March 2020. We ate outside, I had too many cocktails, and it was perfect. (A+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

Bart Simpson feat. Daft Punk & Giorgio Moroder

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2021

Part of what makes this so good & funny is the obvious level of care put into making it, right down to the smallest details. The audio distortion? Perfect lip syncing? The Doppler effect?! It’s just a meme, you didn’t have to go so hard! (via the xoxo slack)

Ted Lasso Believes in You

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2021

Catherynne M. Valente has written an absolutely fantastic review of Ted Lasso that gets to the heart of why so many people love the show so much. I will quote from it at length:

Ted Lasso is like if Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, Coach Taylor, Leslie Knope, and David Tennant’s Doctor all got together and had a big strange baby. It is a completely formulaic premise that turns around and refuses to follow the formula. It’s wholesome without being boring, kind without being trite, smart without being pedantic, so loving it’ll take your breath away, and gut-bustingly funny. Scripts so tight and hilarious that even one guy just saying his name and the paper he works for is not only a meme but makes you smile each and every time.

Do you know how fucking hard that is to pull off?

It is so much easier to be funny while being cynical. Everyone knows life sucks, it’s easy to get them onside by accessing that universal experience. To sneer and punch down and stand back from the world wrapped up in a sense of coolness that comes at the expense of everyone else and call that edgy. It is so much harder to stay funny while you’re being kind. In a show for adults. For cynical adults who are having a thoroughly rubbish time of it — and that was everyone in 2020. It’s nearly impossible, honestly. Even Parks and Rec constantly shit down Jerry’s neck. The Good Place was full of demons to balance out the philosophy with that kind of humor.

Ted Lasso is just a guy. It’s not the afterlife, it’s not in space, it’s not in a medieval morality play, it’s not even something as high-concept as the fantasy life of JD in Scrubs. He’s just a guy, who has problems, not insignificant ones, but also maybe the secret of life, moving through a traditional comedy plot — in fact, the actual plot of Major League — and handling it like comedy characters never do because it’s easier to do a madcap plot when everyone is being stupid and not communicating and running on the rails of their particular archetypal tropes.

How they managed to make radical empathy funny is just miraculous. And also:

I actually think Ted’s progressive jokes are rather desperately important, as far as TV is ever desperately important. There’s this crushing, dominant idea that real comedy, edgy comedy, modern, cutting-edge comedy is by nature regressive, offensive, in your face, dirty, snickering about women and minorities and LGBTQ folk because if those pious SJWs don’t like it, it must be hysterical. So to speak. That if you’re not offending people, you’re not doing it right. And the intersection of comedy and sports is where this attitude is likely to be EXTREMELY firmly rooted and taken for granted.

But here it’s just…gone. There are zero jokes made at the expense of…really anyone except Jamie and Roy, who both need to experience not being bowed down to in order to become who they need to be. Ted doesn’t even think before deftly acknowledging that Rebecca is funny, but on the off chance she actually has a trans parent, he’s excited and interested to discuss her experience with her without judgment. And yet nothing is lost in terms of fun or laughs, because in every scene, Ted lets everyone be in on the joke with him instead of being a target.

Art can be like this. Art can be like this and nothing is lost. There’s still plenty of edge to go around.

If I were you, I would read the whole thing, especially if you liked this previous post: Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Life in Color with David Attenborough

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2021

A new three-part nature series premiered today on Netflix: Life in Color with David Attenborough.

Animals can use color for all kinds of different reasons — whether to win a mate or beat a rival, to warn off an enemy or to hide from one. To understand how these colors work, we need to see them from an animal’s perspective. With new cameras developed especially for this series, now we can.

Trailer for The Underground Railroad

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2021

This is the trailer for The Underground Railroad, a limited series from Amazon based on the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead, directed by Barry Jenkins. The series will contain 10 episodes and be available to stream on Amazon Prime from May 14.

Ted Lasso Season 2 Teaser Trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 20, 2021

Apple just announced that season two of Ted Lasso will be premiering on Apple+ on July 23. That’s it, that’s the news. Watch the trailer. Rejoice. Be happy.

See also Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man.

Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2021

Greta Thunberg took a year off of school to travel the world to better understand the changing planet, a journey captured in this three-part BBC series set to debut on PBS this Thursday (April 22, aka Earth Day). I found out about this from Lizzie Widdicombe’s short profile of Thunberg in the New Yorker.

Thunberg is on the autism spectrum, and the film illustrates how the condition lends a unique moral clarity to her activism. “I don’t follow social codes,” she said. “Everyone else seems to be playing a role, just going on like before. And I, who am autistic, I don’t play this social game.” She eschews empty optimism. Her over-all reaction to the coronavirus pandemic is to compare it with her cause: “If we humans would actually start treating the climate crisis like a crisis, we could really change things.”

Her uncompromising words can give the wrong impression. “People seem to think that I am depressed, or angry, or worried, but that’s not true,” she said. Having a cause makes her happy. “It was like I got meaning in my life.”

Also from that piece: Thunberg doesn’t live at home; she lives in a safe-house “in a kind of witness-protection program” situation because, one would assume, she gets a lot of threats due of her work.

The Zemo Cut

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 09, 2021

Marvel’s newest TV series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, contained a scene in the third episode that featured a tantalizingly short glimpse of erstwhile villain Zemo dancing awkwardly in a nightclub. Fans clambered for more, and so Marvel released an hour-long video of Zemo dancing, cheekily called “The Zemo Cut”. Tag yourself — I’m the clapping. (For some reason, this reminds me of Mad Men’s Ken Cosgrove dancing to Daft Punk.)

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Documentaries

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2021

Foley artist Richard Hinton talks about how he creates sounds for nature documentaries like Planet Earth. I love watching Foley artists do their thing, but I have mixed feelings about these made-up sounds!

Despite the veneer of neutrality of nature documentaries, I know there’s no such thing as objective truth when you’re dealing with cameras and film editing. And silent video is boring. But on the other hand, just making up sounds that spiders don’t actually make — I don’t know. I’ve posted about this before, regarding a video series about how Planet Earth II was made:

I hope the third program is on sound, which has been bugging me while watching Planet Earth II. I could be wrong, but they seem to be using extensive foley effects for the sounds the animals make — not their cries necessarily, but the sounds they make as they move. Once you notice, it feels deceptive.

See also How Fake Are Nature Documentaries?

Is it manipulation? Or good storytelling? And what’s the difference between the two anyway? A silent security feed of a Walmart parking lot is not a documentary but The Thin Blue Line, with its many dramatizations and Philip Glass score, is a great documentary.

(via open culture)

The Year Earth Changed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 30, 2021

Produced by BBC Studios Natural History Unit and narrated by David Attenborough, The Year Earth Changed is an upcoming documentary that looks at what happened to the natural world when much of the world’s human population stayed indoors for a few months.

From hearing birdsong in deserted cities, to witnessing whales communicating in new ways, to encountering capybaras in South American suburbs, people all over the world have had the chance to engage with nature like never before. In the one-hour special, viewers will witness how changes in human behavior — reducing cruise ship traffic, closing beaches a few days a year, identifying more harmonious ways for humans and wildlife to coexist — can have a profound impact on nature. The documentary, narrated by David Attenborough, is a love letter to planet Earth, highlighting the ways nature bouncing back can give us hope for the future.

The Year Earth Changed debuts on Apple+ on April 22, aka Earth Day. (I can’t believe they resisted calling this Nature Is Healing though…)

The Secret Life of Machines

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

In the late 80s and early 90s, a show called The Secret Life of Machines aired in the UK and the US. Each episode focused on one piece of technology (television, vacuum cleaner, refrigerator) and how it worked — the show is definitely a precursor to the hordes of explainer videos on YouTube, and, increasingly, streaming services. Show creator Tim Hunkin has been uploading digitally remastered episodes of the show to YouTube with newly added commentary from Hunkin at the end of each one. (via @TimothyHelmuth)

Update: I got distracted and forgot to include that Hunkin is doing a new series called The Secret Life of Components about things like chains, hinges, and LED lights. (thx for the reminder @rou_revisionist & @kylevanhorn)

Eyes on the Prize to Re-Air on PBS

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2021

The fantastic civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize will soon be available for viewing on public media and online. WORLD Channel and PBS will begin airing the 14-part series in early April. The first part of the series, covering the civil rights movement from 1954-1965, will also be available to watch online starting in mid-April. Check out the press release for more info.

Eyes on the Prize, created by Executive Producer Henry Hampton, is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed in-depth documentary series on civil rights in America. Hampton set out to share his vision of what he called “the remarkable human drama that was the Civil Rights Movement” through the experiences and challenges of those fighting for justice. Produced by Blackside Inc, Eyes on the Prize tells the definitive story of the civil rights era from the point of view of the ordinary men and women whose extraordinary actions launched a movement that changed the fabric of American life and embodied a struggle whose reverberations continue to be felt today.

With contemporary interviews and historical footage, the Academy Award-nominated documentary traces the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Voting Rights Act; from early acts of individual courage through the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions. The late Julian Bond, political leader and civil rights activist, narrates.

If you’ve never seen Eyes on the Prize, you should definitely take this opportunity to check it out. (via @jbenton)

The Bookshop: One of John Cleese’s Favorite Comedy Sketches

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2021

In 2014, John Cleese listed five of his favorite comedy sketches that he had written over the course of his career. Among them was one I’d never seen before but soon had me in stitches: The Bookshop.

I also watched another of the sketches he mentioned (The Cheese Shop) and it fell totally flat — Monty Python-style humor is very much a hit-or-miss thing for me, so YMMV. (via open culture)

All the Sitcom References from WandaVision Explained

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2021

In this extensive video, The Take not only explains the themes and ending of WandaVision (spoilers, obvs) but walks through all of the sitcom tropes, references, and Easter eggs present in the show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to the beeping Stark toaster commercial to Bewitched to Full House (Olsen sisters!) to The Office. Weirdly, they kinda glide right over perhaps my favorite trope referenced in the show: the recasting of the Pietro character a la Darrin in Bewitched and Aunt Viv in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The video pairs well with this interview with WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer.

The first thing was the notion of, how do you do this? How do you take sitcoms and combine them with Wanda and Vision who, up to this point in the M.C.U., were such self-serious characters and dramatic characters with so much sadness surrounding them. They weren’t funny. What’s the synthesis? I’m a big fan of “Lost,” and I was very inspired by shows like “Russian Doll,” “Forever” and “Homecoming.” I relished the opportunity of a slow burn. It seemed like an exciting, sneak-attack way to have a bit of a social commentary and a very large story of character and grief.

I thought how they constructed the entire show was really fantastic — I loved every minute of it.

Period-Specific Cartoon Homages to Wandavision

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 01, 2021

Art director Riana McKeith is watching Wandavision, each episode of which takes place in a different time period from the 50s to the present day. As a loving homage, she’s illustrating scenes from the show in the style of cartoons from each time period. Here’s the first episode, which takes place in the 50s a la I Love Lucy or Leave It to Beaver:

Wandavision cartoon

I don’t know enough about 50s cartoons to do more than guess at the inspiration of that one (Hanna Barbera? Looney Tunes?) but her 60s scene is obviously inspired by The Jetsons and The Flintstones:

Wandavision cartoon

My kids and I are obsessed with Wandavision — it’s a big ol’ love letter to television — and this project is the perfect complement to the show.

The Typewriter

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2021

A few days ago, I featured Ariel Avissar’s compilation of giant moons from movies and over the weekend, he sent me his most recent supercut: The Typewriter. This brisk & artfully concocted 2-minute video features dozens of typewriters being used in TV & movies, including The Shining, Mad Men, Adaptation, Barton Fink, Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men, and even Stephen J. Cannell (80s kids know).

The Queen’s Gambit, but for Children’s Board Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 18, 2021

Beth from Queen's Gambit playing a board game

Beth from Queen's Gambit playing a board game

Beth from Queen's Gambit playing a board game

Netflix spoofed their own hit show by photoshopping Beth Harmon from The Queen’s Gambit intensely playing children’s board games like Operation, Monopoly, Connect Four, and Jenga.

The Simpsons Intro Recreated Using Stock Footage

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2021

This is one of those posts that’s really easy to understand — it’s the famous intro to The Simpsons recreated using stock footage, just like the title says right up there — but I’ve gotta write something here to take up a little space and time, so I end up just saying the same thing using the same words (intro, Simpsons, recreated, stock, footage) like you’re all 3 years old or something. (Why do we need more than six words to describe this?) Anyway, this video is the introduction to the American television show The Simpsons recreated using only stock video footage. Enjoy.

See also: stock footage intros to Duck Tales and Friends and the stock footage trailer for Koyaanisqatsi. (via the morning news)

My Recent Media Diet, the Still Isolated Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2021

Holy shit, do I miss going to the movies. Oh, and going everywhere else. Anyway, every few months for the past couple of years, I’ve shared the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts I’ve enjoyed (or not) recently. Here’s everything I’ve “consumed” since the beginning of the year. (Don’t sweat the letter grades — they’re so subjective that I don’t even agree with them sometimes.)

Mank. Wanted to hate this, for secret reasons. Didn’t. (B+)

The Royal Tenenbaums. I have seen this movie a half dozen times and it’s still so fresh every time. (A+)

The Painter and the Thief. Best movie I’ve seen in months. (A+)

In & Of Itself. Everyone was raving about this and so I watched it and…I don’t know. It’s a magic show. I can see why people find it interesting, but watching it the night after The Painter and the Thief, it paled in comparison. (B+)

Ava. Jessica Chastain is good in this movie that is otherwise pretty bleh. (C+)

I’m Your Woman. Loved the 70s vibe of this one — not only the in-film setting but it had the feel of a movie made in the 70s as well. (B+)

Idiocracy. Fascinating documentary of the Trump presidency. (A-)

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, Star Wars was the biggest movie in the world but without such a strong sequel, maybe we’re not still talking about these movies more than 40 years later. (A)

Blood Simple. First Coen brothers movie and Frances McDormand’s debut. (A-)

L.L. Bean fleece-lined hoodie. The most comfortable piece of clothing I’ve ever owned. (A+)

Wonder Woman 1984. This wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone said it was, but they should have worked a little harder on making an entertaining movie and less on hitting the audience over the head with a moral lesson. (B+)

Song Exploder (season two). The Dua Lipa and Trent Reznor episodes were the standouts here. (B+)

Ammonite. Great individual performances by Ronan and Winslet. (B+)

The Mandalorian (season two). Enjoyed this way more than season one. The final scene in the last episode… (A-)

MacBook Air M1. A couple of years ago, I bought an iPad Pro intending to use it for work on the go. For folks whose work is mostly email and web browsing, the device seems to work fine but after a solid year of trying to make it work for me, I gave up. Last month, I bought a MacBook Air M1 to replace my 6-year-old iMac, my 9-year-old Air, and the iPad. It’s a remarkable machine — lightning fast with a long-lasting battery. I’ll be much happier traveling with this, whenever it is that we get to travel again. (A)

The Crown (season four). The show has never reached the giddy heights of the first two seasons, but Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher was a fantastic addition to the show. As someone on Twitter said, Anderson played Thatcher perfectly: as a sociopath. (A-)

Sunshine. Rewatch. Afterwards, as one does, I looked the film up on Wikipedia and of course Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Devs) had written it. (A-)

Florida by Lauren Groff. Excellent and eclectic collection of short stories. (B+)

Phantom Thread. Undoubtably a masterpiece but also something that I personally find it hard to get fully into. (B+)

Emma.. Super-fun period piece starring Anya Taylor-Joy. (A-)

In Our Time, Eclipses. I love any opportunity to hear about eclipses. (A)

Hang Up and Listen: The Last Last Dance. This picks up where The Last Dance left off with the story of Michael Jordan’s second (and much less successful) comeback with the Washington Wizards. (B+)

Soul. A sequel of sorts to Inside Out. The underworld score by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross is fantastic. (A)

Ready Player One. Almost in spite of myself, I like this movie. (B+)

The Hobbit film series. Not as good as the Lord of the Rings movies, but not as bad as commonly thought. (B)

Locked Down. This took a while to get going, but Hathaway and Ejiofor are both really good in this. I’ll tell you though, I really had to be in a certain mood to watch a movie about the first weeks of pandemic lockdown. It will be really interesting to see how much appetite people will have for pandemic-themed movies, TV, books, art, etc. (B+)

Young Frankenstein. Madeline Kahn is only in this movie for like 5 minutes but she so dominates the screen that it feels like much longer. (A-)

Batman Begins. I don’t know why Christopher Nolan wanted to direct a series of superhero movies, but I’m glad he did. (A-)

This American Life, The Empty Chair. There are so many more podcasts now than there were 10 years ago, but This American Life is still consistently among the best and they don’t get enough credit for that. (A-)

Criminal, The Editor. I will listen to anything about people who love encyclopedias. (B+)

The Midnight Sky. I feel like I’ve seen this movie — or a movie very much like it — several times before. (B)

Ocean’s 8. Good fun. And Awkwafina! (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

USPS Announces Star Wars Droid Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2021

Star Wars droids stamps from the USPS

Star Wars droids stamps from the USPS

Star Wars droids stamps from the USPS

Star Wars droids stamps from the USPS

The spring, the USPS will be releasing a set of 10 stamps featuring droids from Star Wars movies and series. (These are the droids you’re looking for lolololol.)

Representing more than four decades of innovation and storytelling, the droids featured in this pane of 20 stamps are IG-11, R2-D2, K-2SO, D-O, L3-37, BB-8, C-3PO, a GNK (or Gonk) power droid, 2-1B surgical droid and C1-10P, commonly known as “Chopper.”

The characters are shown against backgrounds representing settings of memorable adventures. The selvage features a passageway from the floating Cloud City above the planet Bespin, introduced in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.”

(thx, caroline)

21 Things That Kept Me Going In 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 31, 2020

overhead view of my home office

For the past few years, I’ve been keeping track of everything I read, watch, listen to, and experience in my media diet posts. As a media diet wrap-up, here’s the most compelling content & experiences from 2020, stuff that helped stimulate and sustain me in a year of isolation and pandemic.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This was the final movie I saw in a theater before the pandemic hit; I chose well. Not a week has gone by this year that I didn’t think about some aspect or another of this film.

You’re Wrong About. By far my favorite episodic podcast. The joy with which the hosts delight each other with insights and humorous asides is the engine that drives the show. Literally my only complaint: I wish they hadn’t changed the theme music.

The Queen’s Gambit. Seems like everyone watched this miniseries this fall and I loved it just as much as anyone.

The Rain Vortex at Singapore’s Changi Airport. An enchanting oasis in the middle of an airport indicative of Singapore’s incorporation of natural elements into urban spaces.

MASS MoCA. For my birthday, I treated myself with a road trip to this superb museum. The Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, and Jenny Holzer exhibitions alone were worth the trip. I sorely miss museums.

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? Everyone I’ve recommended this show to has loved it.

The Land That Never Has Been Yet from Scene on Radio. An essential series on American democracy. Like, do we even have one? It’s hard to choose, but the episode on how the libertarianism of the contemporary Republican Party was the result of a deliberate campaign by just a few people that increasingly came to dominate American politics is my favorite.

Carol. I remember liking this back when it came out, but my rewatch a couple of months ago was a revelation. A remarkable, sparkling film.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson has a gift for finding new ways for her readers to think about entrenched systems and behaviors.

Devs. This show got neglected a little in the end-of-year lists because of an early-in-the-pandemic release, but it was one of my top 2-3 shows this year.

The Great. I really enjoyed this Hulu show as I watched it and it’s grown in my esteem in the months since. It’s one of the first shows I recommend when friends ask what I’ve been watching lately. Huzzah!

Nintendo Switch. To distract themselves from the pandemic, did America spend more hours playing video games or watching TV? I did both. Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 35, Rocket League, Fortnite, Minecraft, Among Us, and all the old NES games were popular in our household this year.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I found reading difficult for most of the year — I only finished three books in the past 10 months. But this one I couldn’t put down; finished it in two days.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang. Perfect little stories expertly told. Don’t miss the endnotes, where Chiang reveals where the ideas for each of his stories came from.

AirPods Pro. The best augmented reality device yet devised — the music feels like it’s actually in your head more seamlessly than ever before.

Little Women. Fantastic casting, performances, and direction. Waiting patiently for whatever Gerwig does next.

My Brilliant Friend (season 2) & Normal People. I didn’t think anyone could effectively adapt either of these authors, but somehow the shows nearly equalled the books.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. Everything from Larson is great and this book about the Battle of Britain and the triumph of leadership resonated throughout this pandemic year.

Future Nostalgia. I listened to this more than anything else in 2020. Also notable because IMO there are no skippable songs on this album.

Tomidaya shoyu ramen. This tiny ramen shop in the Little Tokyo section of Saigon is supposed to closely resemble Japan shops. One of the best bowls I’ve ever had.

The Mandalorian. I was lukewarm on season one but loved season two. Of all the recent Star Wars things, this show best channels the sometimes goofy/campy magic that made the original movie so compelling.

The image above is an overhead view of my home office, where all the kottke.org magic happens.

Today’s Work Music: Max Richter’s My Brilliant Friend Soundtracks

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2020

That someone was able to turn Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels into a compelling TV series is nothing short of miraculous. It could have gone so wrong.1 A key aspect of that success has to be Max Richter’s score for the show. I’ve been listening to the season one soundtrack for awhile now, but just stumbled across the season two soundtrack.

That’s today work music sorted, then.

P.S. For the first couple of months of the pandemic, I shared what I was listening to during my workday in this thread (continued here). Check it out if you need some wordless music to beaver away to.

  1. Same with Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The TV series could have been terrible but it very much was not.

Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

Have you watched Ted Lasso? If not, you should — it’s probably my favorite TV thing of 2020. (It’s ok if you don’t care for sports. It’s not about sports.) Maureen Ryan’s excellent review of the series gets at why people are finding it so compelling.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this 2016 essay by Nora Samaran, who later expanded it into a slim but transfixing book called Turn This World Inside Out. It addresses a number of persistent questions I’ve had with lucid, thoughtful prose.

As Samaran puts it, “the men I know who are exceptionally nurturing lovers, fathers, coworkers, close friends to their friends, who know how to make people feel safe, have almost no outlets through which to learn or share this hardwon skill with other men…. Meanwhile, the men I know who are kind, goodhearted people, but who are earlier on in growing into their own models for self-love and learning how to comfort and nurture others, have no men to ask. … The answer to all of these difficulties is to openly discuss nurturance: how it looks, how it feels, how men can learn to practice it from the men who already know how.”

Ryan argues that Ted Lasso is an outlet that models the type of nurturing that Samaran is talking about.

Ted Lasso does a lot of things well — I adore the budding friendship between Rebecca and marketing whiz Keeley (Juno Temple) — but one of the things it explores wisely and well is what it looks like when men engage in (sorry for using these dreadful words) nurturing behaviors.

It’s a sprightly, well-constructed, enjoyable comedy about sports, sure, but it’s also about men who — like the many good men I have known (even in Hollywood!) — take responsibility for the example they set, for their emotions and for the actions they take. Ted Lasso will remain deeply valuable into next year and beyond, because it is also about a bunch of very different people who display fulfilling, conscientious confidence and leadership — not the bullying, toxic, arrogant, violent, condescending domination that has, in this country, has too often masqueraded as “leadership” and “confidence.” In evolving and supporting each other through those changes, these characters form friendships and communities that are truly meaningful.

Watching the show and reading this, I can’t help but think of another person who modeled kindness, goodheartedness, and nurturing male behaviors on TV for decades: Fred Rogers. (See, for instance, soaking in a kiddie pool with François Clemmons.) Ted Lasso co-creators & co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt are right around my age; I’d be shocked if one or both of them didn’t watch a bunch of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up like I did. The two shows are obviously very different but Rogers’ brand of radical empathy is all over Ted Lasso. As I’ve grown more conscious over the past decade about the type of person I want to be in the world and the type of example I want to set for my kids, Rogers has been a guiding light and I’m happy to add Ted Lasso to the list as well.

Update: I forgot to add: another aspect I appreciate about the show is it demonstrates how you can be competitive without being toxic. Lasso is a very competitive guy who cares about winning, but he goes about it in a constructive way, not a destructive way. It’s the kind of energy their mom and I are always trying to impart to our kids, who are both competitive (albeit in pretty different ways).

See also Building Belonging at Summer Camp.

My Recent Media Diet, The Late 2020 Edition

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2020

Forgive me reader, for I have been lazy. It’s been 7 months since I’ve shared a list of the movies, books, music, TV, and podcasts that I’ve been watching/reading/listening to, uh, recently. But I’ve been diligently keeping track1 and so here’s everything I’ve consumed since early May. Warning: soooo much TV and soooo many movies (and bad ones at that) and very few books. At the end of most days — after work, parenting, cooking yet another meal I’m not actually in the mood for, and constantly refreshing Instagram — I just don’t have enough left in the tank for books. (Oh, and as usual, don’t pay too much attention to the letter grades!)

Winds of Change. A fun ride but ultimately kind of empty? (B)

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Perhaps not what you’d expect going in — thought-provoking on almost every page. (A)

The Ezra Klein Show — Madeline Miller. Super interesting, especially if you’ve read Song of Achilles or Circe. (A-)

Godzilla. This was sort of the tail end of my pandemic disaster movie film fest. (C+)

Fetch the Bolt Cutters. I love that this exists but it is not for me. (B-)

The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel. I knew it was coming, Thomas Cromwell’s downfall; it’s historical fact after all. But somehow the actual moment shocked me, despite Mantel’s careful foreshadowing over hundreds of pages. (A)

Normal People. No way in hell was this going to be as good as the book, but they somehow did it. Stellar casting. (A-)

Fleabag Live. I wanted to love this like I loved the TV show but could not get into it. (C+)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Whatever else you might think about the third SW trilogy, the casting was fantastic. (B+)

Partysaurus Rex. One of my favorite Pixar shorts. (A-)

Iron Man 3. The only MCU movie I hadn’t seen. It was…fine? (B)

Dunkirk. A masterpiece. (A)

Arrival. Another masterpiece. (A)

Kursk. This should have been better. (B)

Harry Potter at Home. My kids and I listened to this in the car and loved it. (A-)

Watchmen. After admitting I’d stopped watching after a few episodes, several of you urged me to keep going. I finished it but still was not as dazzled as everyone else seemed to be. Maybe if I’d read the graphic novel? (B+)

Against the Rules with Michael Lewis (season two). This season was all about coaching and may have been even better than the first season. (A-)

The General. A silent film masterpiece from Buster Keaton. The kids were a little bored at first but ultimately loved it. (A-)

The Endless. Solid sci-fi horror. (B)

13th. A powerful argument that slavery is still constitutionally legal and alive & well in the United States. (A)

Ida. Beautiful film. (B+)

The Last Dance. I grew up watching and rooting for Jordan and the Bulls, so this was the perfect nostalgic entertainment. Jordan comes off as both more and less of a dick than I remember. (A-)

Da 5 Bloods. This was a mess. (C+)

Undone. Inventive animated sci-fi with plenty of plot left for season two. (B+)

Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor. Borrowed this from my daughter to brush up on how to help her approach some changes coming down the pike. (A-)

Beyond Meat. I snuck some of their ground “beef” into a casserole to try it out and see if the kids would notice. They didn’t at first, but once I told them, the three of us agreed that it was not that tasty — and definitely didn’t taste like beef. Plus I had an upset stomach until noon the next day. (C-)

Knives Out. I enjoyed this much more the second time. (A-)

Honeyland. A maddening microcosm of modernity. (A)

The Conversation. Maybe this hit me on an off-night? (B+)

The Great. Super fun show from the screenwriter of The Favourite. (A-)

Hamilton. Obviously better in person (and 4 years ago), but the performances and music are so great it doesn’t matter. (A)

Slate Money — Modern Monetary Theory. Really interesting alternate way of thinking about the economy, federal debt, inflation, and taxes. They kinda jumped right into the middle of it though, leaving this interested MMT beginner a little baffled. (B)

12 Monkeys. So very 90s. Brad Pitt is great in this though. (B+)

Cloud Atlas. An underrated gem. (A)

The Old Guard. Engaging and built for a sequel. But what isn’t these days? (B+)

Cars 2. I’d only ever seen the first 2/3s of this because my then-4-year-old son was so upset that the onscreen baddies were going to kill Lightning McQueen that we had to leave the theater. (B-)

Nintendo Switch. Such a fun little console that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (A-)

Greyhound. Not Hanks’ best effort. (B)

Radioactive. An overly complicated movie about a complex woman. (B+)

Ratatouille. The scene where Ego takes his first bite of ratatouille still gives me goosebumps. (A)

The Speed Cubers. Heartwarming story. (B+)

Project Power. Incredible that they were able to turn the story of Henrietta Lacks into a superhero movie. (B+)

Pluto TV. Am I the last person on Earth to find out about this app? Dozens of channels of reruns that you can’t pause and are interrupted by ads, just like old school TV. I’ve been watching far too much old Doctor Who on here. (B+)

Folklore. I don’t really get Taylor Swift and that’s ok. (C)

This Land. Excellent and infuriating — this had me yelling at my car radio. (A)

13 Minutes to the Moon — Apollo 13. Not as good as season one about Apollo 11 or Saving Apollo 13, but still compelling. (B+)

Black Panther. Had to rewatch. Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman. What a loss. (A-)

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. Anything she writes, I will read. (A)

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I had forgotten how slow this starts, but once it gets going it’s completely gripping, even the quiet parts. (A-)

Contact by Carl Sagan. First time I’d read this in many years. Did not resonate as much as it had in the past. (B+)

Contact. They should have sent a poet. (A-)

True Grit. Hailee Steinfeld is fantastic in this. (A)

Being John Malkovich. Terrific performance by Malkovich. This was a favorite movie of mine for years but its impact on me has lessened. (B+)

Reply All, Country of Liars. The origin story of QAnon. But let’s just say there are some unreliable narrators in this story. (B+)

Jurassic Park. A blockbuster masterpiece. (A)

50 First Dates. One of the very few Sandler comedies I really like. (B+)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Really did not vibe with this one. (C+)

Pride & Prejudice. I am a huge sucker for this film. (A)

MASS MoCA. Took a day trip down here back in October. My first museum since Feb. Sol LeWitt, James Turrell, Jenny Holzer, great building, virtually no one here on a weekday — very much worth the 6-hour RT car ride. (A+)

Palm Springs. Groundhog Day + 50 First Dates. (A-)

Kona Honzo. After getting a taste of mountain biking on a borrowed bike, I upgraded to this hardtail. Had some really great rides on it but also stupidly crashed, landed on my face, had to go to the ER, and got 9 stitches on my chin. Would not recommend crashing (stupidly or otherwise, but especially stupidly), but I liked mountain biking enough to get back on the bike a couple of weeks later. (A-)

My Octopus Teacher. As I said previously: “It’s such a simple movie but it packs a surprising emotional wallop and is philosophically rich. Even (or perhaps especially) the bits that seem problematic are thought-provoking.” (A)

His Dark Materials. I like the show but the main character is so irritating that I don’t know if I can keep watching… (B+)

You’re Wrong About — Princess Diana. I never fully understood the appeal of Princess Diana but now I do. Excellent 5-part series. (A)

Human Nature. Documentary on Netflix about the discovery and potential of Crispr. (B+)

The Booksellers. Was ultimately not that interested in this. (B)

Ted Lasso. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood + Major League. Who knew you could make radical empathy funny? (A+)

The Queen’s Gambit. So well done in almost every way. (A)

Haywire. Solid Soderbergh thriller. (B+)

Enola Holmes. I will watch almost any Sherlock Holmes adaptation, riff, or spin-off. (B+)

The Trial of the Chicago 7. I loved this. Classic Sorkin and great ensemble cast performance. (A)

Zama. Maybe surrealist film is not my cup of tea. (B)

AlphaGo. I’d read a lot about the events in this film, but seeing it play out was still gripping and surprising. This and My Octopus Teacher would make a great double feature about the shifting definition of what makes humans human. (A)

The Way I See It. Pete Souza reflects on his proximity to power. (B+)

The Queen. Had to watch this after the Princess Di You’re Wrong About series. (B+)

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special. Is this canon now? If so, I have some questions. (C)

Carol. Holy shit, wonderful! I think I held my breath for the last two minutes of the movie. (A+)

Song Exploder. TV version of the OG podcast. The REM episode was great. (B+)

Rogue One. I wouldn’t call this the best Star Wars movie, but it isn’t not the best Star Wars movie either. (A-)

Little Women. Rewatched. I love this movie. (A)

Tenet. Primer + James Bond. Maybe the pandemic has made me dumber, but this totally confused me. In a bad way — it could/should have been simpler. (B)

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. A masterful examination of the skin color-based caste system of the United States, compared and contrasted with the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. (A)

Past installments of my media diet are available here.

  1. People have asked so here’s the extensive system I use to keep track of everything: the Notes app on my phone.

The Moral Calculus of COVID-19

posted by Tim Carmody   Nov 20, 2020

deep-space.jpg

You may have heard that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has been quarantining at home following close contact with a person who had tested positive for COVID-19. You may have also heard that last night, Maddow returned to her show (still filming from home) to reveal that this person was her partner of 20+ years, artist/photographer Susan Mikula. Mikula is recovering, but at at least one point, the couple genuinely feared for her life. Maddow herself is still testing negative; with Mikula in much less danger and Maddow nearing the end of quarantine, they felt it was time to open the curtain on their experience.

If you haven’t seen it already, I’d like you to watch the video of Maddow describing her experience of living with a loved one who is suffering from COVID-19, whom you have to care for but cannot touch without grave risk to yourself, and then to others. (It is about Mikula’s own experience, but it’s really much more about Maddow’s experience, for good reason.)

Here’s a quick excerpt, if you want a textual preview (via Vulture):

“Just believe me: Whatever you have calculated into your life as acceptable risk, as inevitable risk, something that you’re willing to go through in terms of this virus because statistically, hey probably, it will be fine for you and your loved ones, I’m just here to tell you to recalibrate that,” [Maddow] warned. “Frankly, the country needs you to recalibrate that because broadly speaking, there’s no room for you in the hospital right now.”

She cites hospitals being overwhelmed with a “50 percent” increase in patients “in two weeks.” While it may be easy to risk your own life, the virus doesn’t let you make the choice. “What you need to know is whoever’s the most important person in your life, whoever you most love and most care for and most cherish in the world, that’s the person who you may lose and who you may spend weeks up all night freaking out about and calling doctors all over the place and over and over again all night long, trying to figure out how to keep that person breathing and out of the hospital,” she said. “Whatever you’re doing, however you’ve calibrated risk in your life, don’t get this thing.”

Another moment worth noting in the video is shortly after she begins. Maddow is interrupted by a recurring beeping noise in a room off-camera. She has to attend to it herself, in the middle of a live television show, because there’s no one else at home who can do it. She takes off her microphone and earpiece, then has to put it back on. After already revealing at the beginning of the show that she’s not wearing makeup—she doesn’t know how to apply it herself, and no one can help her—it’s a nice peek behind the scenes.

I don’t know if everyone always understands how much work it takes it is to perform for live television: how many accessories you need, how much support is required. People don’t see what you have to look like, sound like, or act like; they don’t see the almost cyborg contraption you have to become in order to make a successful television appearance. Being good at television is a specific skill. It’s as different from writing, reporting, or public speaking as football, baseball, and basketball are from playing polo. It doesn’t matter if you have your words on a teleprompter (although that does help): you still have to deliver them, in time, no backsies, and look and sound good while you’re doing it.

The disruption of the show also happens in the middle of a charming metaphor Maddow uses to describe her relationship:

The way that I think about it is not that she is the sun and I’m a planet that orbits her—that would give too much credit to the other planets. I think of it more as a pitiful thing: that she is the planet and I am a satellite, and I’m up there sort of beep-beep-beeping at her and blinking my lights and just trying to make her happy.

Compare this to Farhad Manjoo’s essay in The New York Times today, “I Traced My COVID-19 Bubble and It’s Enormous.” Manjoo starts with a classic dilemma: they know it’s unsafe in general to travel for Thanksgiving, but they wonder if it might be safer for their family, given the size of their social circle and the precautions they’ve taken. They’d like to find out more, to replace their general intuitions, which pull them in both directions, with something more concrete. This is a time-honored journalistic premise (a rhetorical trope, really) for answering a question many people might have.

In researching their close contacts, and their own exposure to other people, Manjoo quickly has cold water thrown on the notion that their bubble is in any way contained to the degree they’d imagined it to be. (This part of the story is well-illustrated: I’ll give you the text excerpts, but it’s worth clicking through and scrolling through yourself.)

I thought my bubble was pretty small, but it turned out to be far larger than I’d guessed.

My only close contacts each week are my wife and kids.

My kids, on the other hand, are in a learning pod with seven other children and my daughter attends a weekly gymnastics class.

I emailed the parents of my kids’ friends and classmates, as well as their teachers, and asked how large each family’s bubble was.

Already, my network was up to almost 40 people.

Turns out a few of the families in our learning pod have children in day care or preschool.

And one’s classmate’s mother is a doctor who comes into contact with about 10 patients each week.

Once I had counted everyone, I realized that visiting my parents for Thanksgiving would be like asking them to sit down to dinner with more than 100 people.

They aren’t actually done counting yet: from themself, they’ve only gone to three degrees of separation. But presumably, the point in the headline is made. The author’s bubble is enormous, and presumably the reader’s is, too.

Then a curious thing happens. Manjoo decides that what they’ve learned doesn’t matter. They thinks their family and their contacts are special after all. “All of my indirect contacts are taking the virus seriously—none of them spun conspiracy theories about the pandemic, or suggested it was no big deal or told me to bug off and mind my own business.” (This is a very low threshold for “taking the virus seriously.”) And they would really like to take their wife and children to see their parents. An epidemiologist gives them some cover, saying their desire to see their parents is understandable, and it’s all a matter of assessing and evaluating risk.

So, they change their mind again. They make a few concessions (drive, not fly; an outdoor meal rather than an indoor one; staying off-site rather than sleeping over). And they’re going to travel five hours each way with their wife and children and their 100+ direct and indirect contacts to celebrate Thanksgiving with their parents.

This is contrarianism on a scale not usually seen in a newspaper article. (They’re usually too short to take this many turns.) It is one thing to counter received wisdom by posing a counterfactual. It is another to spend hours of reporting, gathering facts, calling in experts, putting everything on the record, and then deciding that none of that matters.

On Twitter, I called it “the full Gladwell”; only Malcolm Gladwell at The New Yorker can consistently pull this hairpin twist off and stick the landing, even if he frequently violates good sense and plain facts to do it.

It’s important, though, that this is not just a rhetorical trick. These are the real lives of real people, both in the story itself, and radiating out to its readers and their contacts in a global newspaper, the United States’ paper of record. And the reasoning and evidence that are considered but discarded gives the illusion that this is a choice motivated not by setting reason aside, but considering all options and maximizing one’s expected utility.

Not to “both sides” this, but I’m gonna “both sides” this: in some sense, both Maddow and Manjoo are putting their thumb on the scales, in opposite directions. For Maddow, the experience of almost losing the love of her life makes it so that she would take no willing risk that might endanger her or anyone else. (She acknowledges that a certain amount of unavoidable, unwilling risk remains.)

Manjoo is different. They acknowledge that they have no such experience. They are less concerned with the possible loss of their parents’ lives than the loss of their presence in his life and in their childrens’ lives. They see the willing assumption of risk as an open moral question, and something that can be calculated and appropriately mitigated.

Maddow has constructed a universe where she is a tiny satellite orbiting a much larger planet, whose continued health and existence is the central focus of her concern. Manjoo has drawn a map with themself at its center, where anyone beyond the reach of their telephone falls off the edges.

Maddow is also explicitly pleading with her viewers to learn what they can from her experience, and adjust their behavior accordingly. Manjoo is performing their calculus only for themself; they implicitly present themself as a representative example (while also claiming they and their circle are extraordinarily conscientious and effective), but each reader can draw their own conclusions and make their own decision.

At this point the balancing dominoes tip over. Maddow’s position, her argument, and her example are clearly more moral and more persuasive than Manjoo’s. Manjoo’s essay is worth reading, but the conclusion is untenable. It doesn’t do the work needed to arrive there or persuade anyone else to do the same. And at a time when many people are spinning conspiracies about the pandemic, or claiming that it’s no big deal, and in turn influencing others—when we haven’t even yet considered the virus’s impact on the uncounted number of people, from medical staff and many other essential workers to prisoners and the impoverished, who do not simply get to choose how to spend their holiday—it’s irresponsible.

The larger moral tragedy is that because our leaders have failed, and too often actually worked to damage the infrastructure, expertise, and goodwill accumulated over generations, we have no consistent, authoritative guidance on what we should and should not do. We do not know who to trust. We have no money, no help, and no plan but to wait. We have no sense of what rules our friends and neighbors, colleagues and workers, are following when they’re not in our sight; we don’t even know what practices they would even admit to embracing. We have no money; we have no help. We are left on our own, adrift in deep space, scribbling maps and adding sums on the back of a napkin. We are all in this together, yet we are completely alone.

Update: An earlier version of this post used incorrect pronouns for Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo uses they/them pronouns. I regret the error, which, compunded, led to many errors. —TC

Second Update: Actually, Farhad uses both they/them and he/him pronouns. I am relieved I didn’t inadvertently offend the subject of my post with the first version, and since this one is still correct, I am not changing it back.

On the Authenticity of the Chess in The Queen’s Gambit

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2020

A scene from The Queen's Gambit

Like many of you, I watched and loved The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix (trailer). Part of the reason it’s so compelling is the care the show’s creators took in accurately portraying the chess players, games, and tournaments. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading articles by and interviews with chess experts on what the show got right and wrong. I’ll link to some of them below, but this interview with Garry Kasparov, one of the best chess players ever and an advisor to the show, is particularly worth reading. Here he talks about choosing a real game to be played as the final match in the series (spoilers):

Most of the games, it was not difficult, but the biggest challenge was the last game, because the last game is just, it’s a full game. And the problem is that the last game had to be played by the Queen’s Gambit. Of course I could pick up games from other openings, but it would be very much against the spirit of the book. How did I find a good game that will be played for 40 or so moves adjourned in a complicated situation? And then you have this very important element of Benny and his team calling from New York. It means the position had to be complicated. I found a few games and picked up one: Patrick Wolff against Vassily Ivanchuk, Biel Interzonal, 1993. Wolff sent me a note a couple of days after the show was released: “I recognize the game.” It was quite an obscure game. He said, “Garry, how on earth did you find it?” I said, “I had certain parameters, with the gambit, the number of pieces left, so basically, I ended up with 700 games.” It’s not perfect, because it’s not exactly as complicated as I want it, but it fit the book description: game adjourned, complicated position. And even with all the ruckus, he’s pushing the rook. The rook is trapped in the center. I preserved most of the game description and I think it helped, because that’s a climax, and the climax is something that people always recall.

The interview is interesting throughout. Here are some of the other articles I’ve read: former pro Linda Diaz, former top 10 player Judit Polgar (and others), former NY Times chess columnist Dylan Loeb McClain, chess pros Alexandra and Andrea Boetz, 2-time US champ Jennifer Shahade, and ChessBase editor Albert Silver.

Virtual Sets Are Replacing Green Screens

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2020

The green screen is a staple of visual effects for movies and TV. You film actors in front of a green or blue screen and then use digital editing technology to replace the solid color with any background you’d like. But as Phil Edwards explains in this video, the effects teams for some movies and shows (like Disney’s The Mandalorian) have swapped green screens for virtual sets. In lieu of block colored backgrounds, the actors are surrounded by massive LED panels that display the background and background action so everything can be filmed in one go.

It’s a pretty cool technique. Among the benefits of such a system: you get the “natural” light from the LEDs falling on the actors and other objects in the scene, so you don’t need to add it in later digitally or use extra on-set lighting.

Leta Powell Drake, Interviewer Extraordinaire

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2020

This clip of Leta Powell Drake interviewing 80s TV & movie stars like Tom Hanks, Telly Savalas, and Gene Hackman is incredible. She was obviously not intimidated by celebrity — leaning in closely to Hackman, she says: “You’ve done some brilliant pictures and you’ve done some stinkers.” And that’s not even her worst burn.

The clips were compiled from interviews that she did for the TV station KOLN/KGIN in Lincoln, NE when celebs would come through town to promote their latest thing. History Nebraska has a full archive of these interviews available on YouTube.

Here’s a video profile of Drake from 2014 and a recent profile. She’s in the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame (alongside Johnny Carson, Tom Brokaw, and Dick Cavett), played a character called Kalamity Kate on TV for several years, and also won city championships in horseshoes, golf, and bowling. Wow. (via @jfrankensteiner)

Trailer for Season Four of The Crown

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2020

For the fourth season of Netflix’s drama on Queen Elizabeth and the British monarchy, The Crown moves into the 1980s. The first full trailer features two women who largely defined Britain in that decade: Margaret Thatcher (played by Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer, later Princess Diana (played by Emma Corrin). As a fan of the first three seasons of the show and You’re Wrong About’s multi-part series on Princess Diana, I am very much looking forward to this.